Plugins for Microsoft Outlook – Xobni

6 02 2008

xobni

Xobni is the latest Outlook plugin and has enjoyed a rush of very positive press the past several weeks. I have been using Xobni for several weeks and while I do think the product introduces a genuinely new approach to Outlook, it is not the be all end all of plugins.

Xobni’s claim to fame is the speed of the search and the introduction of the social aspect of your email. The product also includes impressive stats on your email such as how many messages are being sent in and out and with whom. They also contain interesting tidbits like the amount of time it typically takes you to respond to a message. Interesting stuff for about five minutes, after that you need to get back to work and quit looking at stats.

xobni2

The most valuable thing this app introduces is the collection of attachments sent to and received from your contacts. This feature alone has saved me a lot of time. Because of this all I need to know is who an attachment came from to retrieve it immediately. I don’t have to know which email it was sent with. It really is just a list of attachments. That simple. Brilliant, but simple.

What I have learned these few weeks is Xobni alone with Outlook is not enough. The social aspect and the way the search results are populated have been too much information in many cases. Sometimes I’m just interested in messages I’ve sent to Jon. Not every message I’ve sent and anyone else we may have in common has sent. The search does not always deliver the right information either, but I guess no search truly does.

For me, the combination of Taglocity and Xobni has been an intriguing one and something I have been working with for approximately a week. This has introduced a bit of lag to Outlook but nothing I can’t live with, nor is it anything that is very persistent. What taglocity brings back is the ability to get granular on a project style basis. Xobni does nothing to answer this need (the tagging and grouping need). For now these two plugins will have to be enough.

Oh, currently Xobni is in closed beta but can be accessed via invite. If you search Google for an invite you’ll likely find one. That’s how I got in. The app is free, for now.

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Plugins for Microsoft Outlook – Taglocity

14 01 2008

I mentioned previously that a big drawback to the Outlook plugin ClearContext, for me, was the inability to place a message within multiple topics. The more I wrestled with this and worked around it the more I wished the system simply supported tagging.

aoi_011408_tag

Enter Taglocity.

Taglocity introduces to Outlook just what you would expect, tagging. It seems to get this done by taking advantage of the difficult to use categories already available in Outlook. You can tag items by using a tag cloud or by selecting from a list that populates as you type. The interface layout is very configurable. You can have the tagging pane display below or beside the preview pane while viewing the inbox. You can also float the tag cloud. In addition to the inbox you can tag items from the compose window, task creation or calendar creation.

Taglocity does right what ClearContext will hopefully correct in the next version. This is the ability to assign multiple tags to a single item. This means that the Sales Report email can be tagged with “2007 4th QTR ” as well as “Sales Commissions”. This is good stuff. Taglocity also makes filtering a view pretty painless and quick. You can select filter from the toolbar and select a tag, or multiple tags, and apply the filter. The filter also supports the AND and OR operators. This is a bit awkward to use but the approach seems pretty fresh. It is yet to be determined if this is a good thing or not.

Taglocity also supports AutoTags (the tags learn as you assign them) ActionTags (kick off an event, create a task, when a tag is assigned) TravellingTags (send tags along in the email). Each of these options are pretty compelling and make introducing the plugin into a workgroup environment a pretty easy one.

For the most part I really liked this plugin. My only concern is that it is not as user friendly as it could be and it does seem to impact performance a bit. With that being said, it is relatively safe to assume that most people that understand the value of tagging could figure it out. All in all I can see myself returning to this plugin and the price seems acceptable at $39 for the professional version.





Plugins for Microsoft Outlook – ClearContext

12 01 2008

It was just a short year ago that I really started to look for Outlook plugins that might make email management a little easier. Within the last few weeks I have found three. I didn’t dig into the history of each one of them enough to know how long they had been around but I’m guessing that the availability of Office 2007 has something to do with it.

Below I am going to give my opinion of one plugin, ClearContext. The next two will be covered in separate posts.

aoi_cc_logo

The first plugin I tried is ClearContext

From my experience, the idea behind ClearContext is to organize your email into categories or stages. In doing so the messages can be automatically filed away, deferred, delegated or turned into a task or calendar entry. Once an email has been categorized a dashboard view is available which allows a look at all messages, tasks or calendar entries for the project.

ClearContext does a lot of things right. The options available to you from when composing or reading a message are many, and are truly valuable. These include things like creating a task from the message or showing a related view which opens a window showing all messages within the category of the message you are viewing.

Unfortunately there are a few shortcomings that ultimately led me to uninstall ClearContext in search of an alternative. The first of these was that I could only place a message in a single category or stage. Ideally a message should be able to live in multiple categories without creating multiple copies of the message. The next issue was with the dashboard. While this idea is great, the execution is lacking. The dashboard is simply not as well organized or as functional as it needs to be. The last issue was how the messages auto categorize. If I categorize a message with a subject of “Sales Reports” to the “2007 4th QTR” category each message received with the same subject is also placed in that category. There are many instances when this simply won’t apply and will have to be worked around by resending the message to myself with an updated subject. This equals more work and defeats the purpose.

If these few shortcoming can be resolved (and they have certainly been mentioned by others in the ClearContext forums) this will be a very strong plugin.





Zonbu/Zonbox wants to be your $99 computer

26 05 2007

Zonbu has put together the Zonbox. A $99 desktop computer with a very small form factor. In addition to the price appeal the Zonbox sports a linux OS and “comes with every program most people ever need”. The other major point of comparison with the traditional desktop computer is the Zonbox does not include, or need, a hard drive. The system runs off 4GB flash based local storage. This translates into no moving parts and what may be a pretty rugged box as a result. Finally the system also touts an efficient low power design which means safer for the environment and lighter on your wallet.

I really like what they are doing here. I especially appreciate the opportunity at another viable choice in the market. The low end PC, the over priced Apple and now the entry level Linux box, nice. In addition to the $99 cost of the hardware the system relies on a subscription service which gives you access to additional storage online in a few different plans ranging from 25GB to 100GB, or $12.99 – $19.95 per month for a 2 year plan. If you do the math the cost after the couple of years is about what you would pay for a middle of the road PC today.While the cost is nice I don’t see the cost as being the driver for buying such a box. A few drivers include support/replacement, software upgrades and no viruses (currently). The Zonbox also supports several peripherals.

Replacement information from the Zonbu site:

Free replacement Zonbox
In the unlikely event that your Zonbox fails within three years of purchase, let us know and we’ll send you a replacement Zonbox that very day (*). Just plug in your replacement Zonbox and immediately access your valuable data stored on the Zonbu service, with all of your preferences and settings intact. Once you’re back up and running, send us your old Zonbox. What could be easier?

That is really all I’ve got. I threw this post together pretty quick and will likely follow it up later with more thoughts around expansion and limitations. Pretty exciting though. Oh, check their demo here.

What do you think?





Finally plunged into Ubuntu – Feisty

21 05 2007

I had been thinking about giving Ubuntu a real try lately. I have had it installed on a PC that sets on my desk in the office but it was too easy for me to just push my chair away when a challenge presented itself and get back to comfortable old Windows. I never spent more than a collective hour a week tinkering with it.

While messing around with my laptop last week, a Thinkpad T42p, it dawned on me that most of what I do on my laptop is done in a browser and this machine may be the best Ubuntu candidate. So I did it. I moved all my data to an external drive, booted to the Live Feisty CD and blew XP out in place of Ubunutu, which became Kubuntu in only a few days.

It’s important to note that I have lived in Windows for all my computing life, since before 3.1. I have never done much at all with Unix or Linux aside from some casual shoulder surfing and the same is true of the macintosh.

I’ve been running Ubuntu now for a week and have not suffered much.

What I was impressed with:

  • Hardware support – I have not had to seek out one driver. Wireless networking just worked at home and in the office. Wired networking took right off too. Video and sound were also optimal out of the box. My Mp3 player was immediately recognized as was my Cruzer titanium flash drive. I was also able to configure network printing with no effort (printing to a Lexmark T640 with the T614 driver).
  • Installed software – The installed software is more than enough to get you going. The Rhythmbox Music player is one of the best I’ve seen. On my to-do list is looking for some lists of required Ubuntu software. I really have no clue. I did install kubuntu because it was mentioned in many of the articles I read. I’m not entirely sure what it does for you. I know it is KDE vs. Gnome and it has its own apps bundled that are equally as nice (Konsole).
  • Management – overall the management of the OS has been very intuitive. Each time I would look for something online invariably my search would lead me right back to a setting in the OS, and not a setting that has to be tweaked via the terminal but an honest to goodness GUI with options and everything. I know there is much that can and should be done via the command line but the fact that you aren’t forced there for every little thing is nice. While I was researching the OS all the mention of having to adjust settings via the terminal was not something I was looking forward to. It’s not that I’m afraid of using a command line, I use them all day long in the AS400 and Windows, I was not into having to learn a new set of commands and syntax just to run an alternate OS. Thankfully I haven’t had to beat away at too much from the command line. Learning more about it is another to-do item.

Here’s what I have working:

  • Email – Evolution – We are an Exchange shop and evolution was the only real solution which allowed me to be connected to the Exchange environment for calendaring, contacts, etc. I’ve only been satisfied with Evolution in the office. Evolution will not connect from anyplace outside the LAN. This is a bummer as Webmail looks like crap when viewed in anything but IE. I’ll likely resort to VPN and a remote Desktop to my office PC when I need to do any extensive Outlook stuff outside the office. Oh, I failed to mention that Evolution uses the webmail interface to Exchange.
  • VPN – A VPN into the office was essential for after hours emergencies, etc. It was very easy to get setup using this info.
  • TN5250 – AS400 access – This took a little bit for me to get working. I’m sure this had to do with my lack of knowledge around the console/terminal in Ubuntu, and not the app itself. Once configured it works pretty well. I have some tweaking to do in the keyboard mapping but nothing too serious. The documentation here is 100% required reading.

All in all I have been very pleased. My biggest shortcoming, and possibly greatest benefit, is my lack of knowledge. I really don’t have any idea what software works better than another. I simply did not have much in the way of expectations aside from eventually dumping Microsoft. As I mentioned my world has been Windows and thus far I do not feel crippled using Linux at all.

Its a neat feeling to be digging into an OS again, for the first time.

Following are some links that helped get me acquainted.

Connecting to Windows from Ubuntu « Linux for human beings?

High-speed cellular wireless modems (e.g. EVDO, HSPDA) in Ubuntu GNU/Linux 6.10 | Samat Jain’s personal home page\

How To: Configure custom keyboard shortcuts on Ubuntu – Lifehacker

HOW TO: Ubuntu Linux for Novices – PaulStamatiou.com

HowTo: Dual Monitors (Xinerama/TwinView/MergedFB) – Ubuntu Forums

Installing Beryl On An Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Desktop With An ATI Radeon Graphic Card | HowtoForge – Linux Howtos and Tutorials

keepass installation – Ubuntu Forums

No Kidding IBM iSeries Access (as400) Client on Edgy [Archive] – Ubuntu Forums

NoMachine NX – Linux Terminal Server, Thin Client Access and Management Software

nVidia TwinView – Ubuntu Forums

Ubuntu:Feisty/Networking –





How bad is Microsoft going to screw up U3?

13 05 2007

I’ve been a fan of the U3 Sandisk devices. I own a 2GB Cruzer Titanium and use it for everything I can.

I read this evening that SanDisk and Microsoft are officially sleeping together and U3 is going to be replaced. Bummer.

From PC Magazine

Microsoft and SanDisk will work together to create new software and hardware offerings that will be incorporated onto removable flash memory cards and SanDisk’s Cruzer USB flash drives.

I really want to believe that Microsoft won’t take something that works pretty good and turn it into garbage, but I’m having a hard time. I use my drive to run everything non-Microsoft and can’t even imagine the issues related to bringing one, or any, of the Office Apps onto a removable drive.

I hope I’m wrong, I really do. I would like to see Microsoft do something really innovative, and cross platform, with USB or Flash based devices. It feels like this kind of thing has a better chance of success if handled by an entity that embraces open source and will think beyond their own line of applications. I’m not sure Microsoft is this entity.





.Net app on the desktop or browser based app?

10 05 2007

I’ve been thinking more about the .NET development and am wondering how easy it is to convert a .NET app into a browser-based app.

What are the benefits to having a full blown .NET (desktop) app, vs. a browser-based version that has the same functionality?

My questions around all of this are pointed toward Microsoft and the associated licensing costs. Alternate desktop flavors are maturing at a pretty aggressive rate and will be better a year from now that they are today. More than 90% of our users use the most basic functionality within the productivity apps, Word, Excel, etc. and could function just fine with an open source alternative.

With that said I don’t expect our backend technologies to be changing in the near future. The use of Exchange, IIS, SQL will likely continue. The costs associated with maintaining a backend environment is small when compared to the desktop environment.

Another option may be to stop upgrading the desktops once a Microsoft enterprise or select agreement expires. This is a good solution if we refrain from developing Windows based apps that require upgraded OS’s or .Net frameworks.

What do you think. Desktop or Browser based?